Tuesday, March 11, 2014
SKOWHEGAN — Let there be pizza and beer.
That was the decision by Skowhegan selectmen Tuesday night that allowed a beer license for Pizza Hut in the Skowhegan Village Shopping Plaza on Lakewood Road for the first time since it opened 20 years ago.
The 4-1 vote, with Selectman Newell Graf in the minority, supports a summary judgment handed down in June in Superior Court at the state Business and Consumer Court in Portland. The ruling said a restriction on the deed forbidding the consumption of alcoholic beverages imposed for religious reasons by the seller of the land in 1965 was no longer valid.
In parceling up his land in 1965, one-time dairy farmer Ralph Dunlop stipulated that beer or wine could not be consumed on premises of any business located in the new shopping center. Sales later at a state liquor store in the plaza were OK because the beverages were not to be consumed on premises.
When Pizza Hut opened in 1993 it applied for a beer license and was denied, based on the rights of Dunlop’s heirs to uphold his, and their own, religious beliefs as members of the Church of the Nazarene.
The restaurant, on land now owned by Mexico Realty Trust of Oxford County, has operated without a license to sell beer ever since.
The defendants in the court case included The First Church of the Nazarene in Skowhegan. The current church sits on nearby East Madison Road that once was the Dunlop family homestead.
Kathy Stevens, general manager of Pizza Hut, was present for Tuesday night’s public hearing and subsequent vote by the Board of Selectman. She told the board that when the restaurant’s lease came up for renewal recently, the owners successfully sought to remove the deed restriction.
The court said the restriction forbidding beer sales at a pizza restaurant created a cloud over the owner’s title to the property. The judge ruled that the condition not to consume alcoholic beverages had become unenforceable because it was a personal covenant that lapsed when the Dunlops died.
Dunlop’s son, Herman Dunlop, of Skowhegan, died in 2006 at the age of 71.
Therefore, the judge ruled, the Dunlop family heirs, the church and any of the local businessmen named as defendants, no longer had any right to oppose lifting the condition.
There was little discussion on the matter Tuesday night, with selectmen acknowledging that a town board could not oppose a court order. No one appeared at the public hearing to oppose the granting of the beer license.
Skowhegan attorney John Youney, a long time member of the town Planning Board who also represented the Dunlop family in some real estate matters, said he remembers the deed restriction being upheld by Dunlop’s son and heir Herman Dunlop on religious grounds in 1993.
Youney said the Dunlops did not object so much to the sale of liquor, but opposed the consumption of alcoholic beverages on the land they sold for development.
Youney said Ralph Dunlop had many real estate dealings and was the first to encourage businesses to move to a modern shopping center away from the downtown.
“If he hadn’t deeded the farm away to become a shopping center, Madison Avenue (Lakewood Road) would still look remarkably the same,” Youney said. “He was the first person to stretch retail sales out toward the town line. His own deed, with the deed restriction, was part and parcel of the changes to Madison Avenue.”
Youney said that since Ralph and Herman Dunlop are no longer alive, the restriction may no longer be reasonable and makes no economic sense to the area.
Youney said that while some residents believe that the addition of beer sales will be good for business, others have said they eat at Pizza Hut because there is no drinking.
“A lot of people go to that Pizza Hut, I am told, because there is no booze,” Youney said. “Some employees say it will be interesting to see what happens.”Doug Harlow — 612-2367 firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @Doug_Harlow